Review: Mozart and Elgar
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, October 29
Reviewer: Max Rashbrooke
In previous NZSO concerts this year I’ve felt the orchestra’s playing, under new music director Edo de Waart, has been slightly on the conservative side. But this was an evening where the musical judgements felt spot on. Mozart’s piano concerto no. 24 in C minor is a delicate, introspective work that requires a really mature performance to bring out its subtleties, and that was what it got.
According to the programme, the evening’s soloist, Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam, is a specialist in playing on older, lighter pianos (fortepianos, in technical terms), and you could hear that in his playing, which was sensitive and intelligent. It was also finely balanced, as is required for a work that belies its minor key nature to sound at times serene and gracious – finding the joy in sadness, as it were. Brautigam’s rapport with the orchestra was superb, and apart from the occasional unconvincing moment in the cadenza, had just the right combination of strength and grace.
The second half work, Elgar’s First Symphony, was in many ways a complete contrast to the Mozart, being altogether grander and written for a much larger orchestra. What united the two was a brisk conductorial approach from de Waart, providing just the right amount of forward impetus without rushing the music.
It was playing with fuel still left in the tank, as it were, which is exactly what both Mozart and Elgar respond to – especially the latter, where the orchestra captured that very British sense of restrained rapture. The playing was grand without being overbearing, and de Waart’s careful conducting brought out the huge range of textures that Elgar offers, the brass section in particular sounding superb. There was also an absolutely convincing sense of structure and clarity about the performance, as the great surges of emotion segued naturally into the most beautiful moments of repose and tranquillity.
De Waart said in his programme notes that after a performance of the First Symphony you leave “feeling better than when you came in”; my own take is that it’s music that – despite the torment it expresses at times – makes you feel as if everything will ultimately be all right. And it was with that kind of serene confidence that this audience member, at least, left the hall on Saturday night, after one of the most satisfying performances of the year so far.